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A Curious Tale

by Charles Baker

Few things in life are more gratifying than the retelling of a good story among friends. Our mistakes, mishaps, misdeeds, and misadventures all become joyful fodder for our companions’ entertainment. Yet how rarely a story is recounted without some degree of embellishment. For who can resist replacing actual dialogue with comments that in hindsight would have been more appropriate? And who can avoid the exaggerations that make any real-life scenario seem somehow more amusing or memorable? How satisfying it is then, when a life event unfolds so perfectly that no false details need be included in its retelling. The following is just such a case.

In the Fall of 1989 I was impoverished and single, eking out a living as a substitute teacher. Many days came and went with no teaching assignments, and consequently I had more than a little free time on my hands. Not that this bothered me any, being a proud forerunner of the modern-day "slacker." Occasionally, however, I engaged in extracurricular activities that provided some illusion of productivity. My pet project at that point in time was a weightlifting course at the local community college.

One hot September morning I rolled out of bed around 10 AM, as was my habit in those days. After loafing around the apartment for an hour or so, I felt the urge to do something constructive, so I resolved to head down to the campus gym for a workout. Stepping out into the oppressive heat nearly prompted a change in plans, but I continued on my way.

I drove my pickup truck with the windows down, as I could scarcely afford the luxury of an air conditioner. The one amenity that I did allow myself was a cassette player, which at that moment was blaring the album Sound Affects by The Jam.[Does anyone remember The Jam? A great English band from the punk/mod movement of the late 1970’s, The Jam followed the pattern so typical of British punkers: After an initial burst of fury fueled by youthful indignation, The Jam expanded their sound and experimented with a variety of musical styles, but then, inexplicably, self-destructed just when it seemed that wider public acceptance was imminent.]

On reaching the school parking lot, I began the frustrating routine of finding a parking space. This was complicated by the fact that A) it was still early in the semester and not many students had dropped out of their classes yet, and B) some tree trimmers had chosen this very inconvenient time to perform their duties, and had parked their vehicles sideways across several parking spaces. Assholes. Everyone becomes an asshole when there’s no parking to be found.


All road rage aside (or more correctly, "parking lot rage"), I continued with my search, and soon noticed a commotion a couple of rows over. Passing the scene, I observed a young woman in her early twenties running, screaming, and flailing her arms about her head. Closely behind her trailed a campus security guard, who was shouting into his walkie-talkie, "I’ve got a case of bee-sting panic in Lot A!" I glanced around the parking lot, and noticed that 2 or 3 other students were also sprinting to their cars while warding off airborne attackers. I quickly surmised the situation: The tree trimmers had apparently disturbed a bee hive, and its occupants were now in a frenzy, dive-bombing anyone that passed.

Heat or no heat, I rolled up my windows immediately. You see, I don’t like bees. Never have, for that matter, though I’m no longer terrified of them like I was as a child, when the mere sight of one would send me running for cover. But I could definitely live without them. [Another aside: I read recently that some behaviors, like the fear of certain animals, may be an inherited evolutionary trait passed down by our hominid ancestors. This seems to be the case with my son Vincent, who at the tender age of 20 months, has also exhibited an innate fear of bees. My in-laws have a chili pepper plant covered with dozens of shiny black peppers, which Vince is convinced are actually bees. He cringes in terror when he passes near the plant, pleading "Shoo, shoo bees!" (a line he learned from Winnie the Pooh). No amount of reassurance or repetition of the phrase "No bees, Vince!" will allay his fears. Which begs the question: Was this behavior learned or biologically determined? An interesting proposition, and one that Henry Nicholls should explore in one of the pedantic essays he posts on this web site.]

It was then that my ordeal began.

No sooner had I rolled up my windows, when I heard the unmistakable sound of an angry bee emanating from inside my vehicle. The buzzing seemed to fill the cab of the truck, swirling around my ears. Yet to my bewilderment, the bee was nowhere to be seen. The sound was so loud, so menacing, that I was sure the insect must be hovering close to my head. I swatted the air around my ears and neck, expecting any second to feel the pain of the sting. None came, but the unnerving buzz droned on. I scanned about the cab nervously, determined to locate the creature. "Where the hell is it?" I asked incredulously, nearing panic. The roar of the unseen attacker continuedŠ.

I spied a parking space in the far corner of the lot. Desperately maintaining my composure, I aimed my car towards the spot. Screeching the truck to a halt, I wrested the keys from ignition, threw open the door, and began to bolt from the vehicle. Halfway out the door, I froze. The buzzing had stopped! The bee must have gotten out when I opened the door, I concluded. Not wanting to allow in any more intruders, I quickly jumped back in and closed the door. I sighed in relief, confident that the cab was a safe place again.

Sitting in the ever-increasing heat of my truck (which now seemed much more tolerable), I devised a plan. "I’ll sit here and listen to the tape for a few minutes until this whole bee thing calms down," I told myself. There didn’t seem to be much point in rushing out and running the gauntlet of an enraged swarm of bees. So I replaced the key in the ignition and turned to the "Accessory" setting, restoring electrical power to the tape deck. At that very moment, to my horror, the buzzing sound began anew. I pulled the key and prepared to bolt out once more. To my surprise, the buzzing stopped again. Hmm. There seemed to be a pattern forming. Ignition on: buzzing sound. Ignition off: no buzzing sound. I repeated the experiment, with the same result.

The ordeal was over, and the culprit identified.

How was it that I had never noticed, despite dozens of prior listenings, that between songs on Sound Affects, The Jam had inserted the sound of a bee buzzing?

About the author:  Charles Baker has taken time out from his busy schedule of forwarding abusive correspondence to this e-zine to begin an exciting career in self-absorbed essay writing. His character flaws are offset by his loving wife, cute bilingual toddler, and service that he performs through his employment on behalf of the great State of California.

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Copyright 1998 by Charles Baker